The march of Zion’s camp was not easy for the two hundred men who trudged 3200 kilometers through America in 1834, 1600 kilometers each way. Brigham Young remembered the toil of walking from Ohio and Missouri and then returning—50 or 65 kilometers a day for three months. Baggage wagons had to be pulled through mud holes. Often twenty or thirty men joined together to pull a wagon up a hill. The strong had to assist the weak and the lame. “It was seldom that I ever laid down to rest before eleven or twelve o’clock at night,” Elder Young recalled, “and we always rose very early in the morning.” The camp horn was blown between 3:00 and 4:00 A.M. (Journal of Discourses 4:101–102.)
It was a time of learning and testing one’s fortitude. Once Joseph Smith counseled the men not to kill any animal except for food. “When men lose their vicious dispositions and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together.” (Documentary History of the Church, 2:71–72.)
Brigham Young listened to the Prophet Joseph and learned. Once when Elder Young spread his sleeping blanket on the tall, thick prairie grass, a rattlesnake coiled and threatened. Brigham called to a nearby friend and told him, “Take this snake and carry it off and tell it not to come back again; and to say to its neighbors do not come into our camp tonight, lest some one might kill you.” His companion faithfully picked up the snake and carried it without injury a good distance from the camp. (Journal of Discourses 17:40.)
Brigham Young’s natural ability pushed him to the forefront. He was chosen one of the Camp’s captains. Frequently he preached. At times he was delegated to procure provisions. Always he closely observed Joseph Smith’s leadership and acquired experience. However, not all of the men yielded to Joseph’s leadership without murmuring. The difficulty of the march made weak-spirited men complain. “We had to be troubled with uneasy, unruly and discontented spirits,” Brigham Young recollected. “This was the first time we had ever travelled in the capacity of a large company … Brother Joseph led, counselled and guided the company, and contended against those unruly, evil disposed persons.” (Journal of Discourses 10:20.)
Dissension grew when Zion’s Camp failed to aid the Missouri Saints. The original plan had called for the state militia to reinstate the Mormons upon their Jackson County lands and for Zion’s Camp to travel from Kirtland to defend the saints after they had returned to their property. But at the last moment the Missouri governor failed to call out the militia. Rather than attack the Missourians, Joseph Smith was directed by the Lord to disband the Camp and return to Ohio.
Upon arriving in Kirtland, many heckled Brigham Young for going west with the camp. “Who has it benefited?” he remembered their asking. “If the Lord did command it to be done, what object had he in view in doing so?” But Brigham knew of the valuable experiences he had learned. “I told those brethren that I was well paid—paid with heavy interest—yea that my cup was filled to overflowing with the knowledge that I had received by traveling with the Prophet.” (Journal of Discourses 10:20.)
Several months later Joseph Smith received a revelation directing him to organize a Quorum of Twelve Apostles. On February 14, 1835 Brigham Young was one of those chosen. His diligence during the march of Zion’s Camp had proven itself to Joseph and to the Lord.